On October 1, 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its new Draft Strategic Plan for 2022 through 2026 (Strategic Plan). EPA is required to develop the Strategic Plan to communicate EPA’s priorities over the next four years and how EPA will accomplish those priorities. The Biden administration has prioritized environmental justice and the protection of vulnerable populations. In response, earlier this year, EPA announced agency-wide efforts to improve community engagement and input in decision making and enhance protections for communities most impacted by hazardous waste sites, poor air and water quality, and a lack of enforcement. The Strategic Plan reflects this priority throughout its seven goals:
While some of EPA’s goals may not have an obvious connection to environmental justice, the Strategic Plan makes clear that the protection of vulnerable populations is a focus of each of the seven goals. The following are a few examples of EPA’s plans to take action to improve environmental justice:
The Strategic Plan, among other priorities, lays out a holistic agency-wide approach to addressing environmental justice. Facilities operating near communities deemed vulnerable or disadvantaged by EPA should expect to continue witnessing increased inspection activity and greater scrutiny of new and renewed permit applications. Community engagement is also an increased focus for EPA. In addition to an extensive focus on community engagement in the Strategic Plan, it is also a significant focus of EPA’s newly release 2021 Climate Adaption Action Plan. This Plan places a heavy emphasis on engagement, consultation, and partnership with underserved and vulnerable communities and includes environmental justice alongside national security as goals. EPA’s unprecedented focus on environmental justice does not appear to be window dressing and is already impacting the regulated community.